Ratings were up significantly, the future schedule is loaded and there are developing stars galore, but none of that could stop Ken Hershman on Friday from announcing his resignation, effective at the end of the year, as president of HBO Sports.
Hershman was hired in 2011 and took over in 2012 to replace Ross Greenburg, who resigned under pressure.
"I think I've built a pretty strong program here," Hershman told Yahoo Sports. "It needed to be recalibrated when I came in, and we worked hard to do that. I think this is a responsible time to make a transition for the company and for me."
No successor was named and Hershman declined to discuss his future. Ratings are up significantly this year, and the May 9 bout between Canelo Alvarez and James Kirkland in Houston garnered the largest rating on HBO Sports since Bernard Hopkins fought Antonio Tarver in 2006. Main events in prime time are up 14 percent in 2015 year over year.
In addition, HBO was part of the record-setting pay-per-view broadcast between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao that sold an astonishing 4.6 million units and generated $437 million in PPV revenue.
Hershman said he is leaving of his own accord and that he needed a break after working so hard to get HBO Sports' boxing program back where he felt it should be. Stars such as Gennady Golovkin and Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez, regarded by most as the two best fighters in the world, developed on HBO during Hershman's tenure.
Hershman also brought Alvarez back to HBO after he had defected to Showtime. Alvarez is one of the sport's brightest stars and is probably its top attraction now that Mayweather has retired. Other top fighters, such as light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, came to HBO on Hershman's watch.
"It's a tough sport that requires attention 24 hours a day, seven days a week and nothing has really changed on that front," he said. "They've changed on my front. I'm at a place in my life now where I have the luxury of making choices."
Still, there was no indication that Hershman was about to make a move, though he was not nearly as visible in the last six months as he had been previously.
Because of the size of HBO's boxing budget and because so many of the sport's biggest stars fight on the network, Hershman has been one of the sport's top power brokers.
He came to HBO in a stunning move in 2011, when he left his post as executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports to take the job as president of HBO Sports. Les Moonves, the president of CBS, which is Showtime's parent company, was so angered by Hershman's defection that he ordered his people to do whatever it took to sign Mayweather away from HBO. In February 2013, Showtime announced it had signed Mayweather to a record-setting six-fight contract.
Michael Lombardo, the president of HBO Programming, hand-picked Hershman to succeed Greenburg. Hershman had been highly effective at Showtime after succeeding the late, great Jay Larkin. He developed the popular Super Six World Boxing Classic that considerably raised Andre Ward's stature, and put together the Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo bout that became one of the greatest fights ever during his Showtime tenure.
Lombardo's statement announcing Hershman's departure was sufficiently vague and gave no indication of whether the move was entirely Hershman's or whether he was pushed out the door.
“Ken’s dedication and commitment to our sports division is deeply appreciated,” Lombardo said in a statement. “His approach to rebuilding our boxing franchise was strategic and creative, which led HBO Sports to great success. All of us here are grateful and proud of the success Ken and the HBO Sports team have had over the past four years in delivering unparalleled sports programming to our subscribers. We wish him all the best in his next challenge.”
Hershman did some of his best work after Mayweather departed, and helped the network secure and develop new stars.
He showed an affinity while he was at Showtime for using lighter weight fighters, which HBO Sports had historically ignored, and continued to push smaller fighters at HBO. He did what previously had been unthinkable and gave Chocolatito, the flyweight champion, a prominent place in the rotation.
Fighters such as Vic Darchinyan, Nonito Donaire, Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez rose to prominence after Hershman took a chance on them during his tenure at Showtime.
"I'm very, very proud of that particular aspect of what I have done," Hershman said of focusing on lighter weight fighters. "The job is to put the best possible fighters on and to not really get too distracted by whether someone's weight is too high or too low. I am proud of those fights. I remember how great they were. The Darchinyans of the world [put on] electric nights and there is a place for those guys in this sport.
"The fans did appreciate it. If you were in The Garden [on Oct. 17] for Chocolatito, that was pretty electric. It was clear the fans knew who he was, appreciated his skill and appreciated the fight. I sincerely hope that whoever succeeds me will embrace that as well. It's great for the sport."